Missoula looks at the need for superfast Internet service

Caitlin CoppleDoes Missoula need faster and more affordable Internet service? That’s the question a new study will seek to answer. With a 26-thousand dollar matching grant from the state,the city and county of Missoula are chipping in 13-thousand dollars each to fund a feasibility study of affordable extreme broadband service. City councilwoman Caitlin Copple chairs the council’s economic development subcommittee. She believes superfast – and affordable – high speed Internet is an attractive recruitment tool for new business.

Pakistani energy officials visit PSC


Hassan Mehmood, Director of Pakistan's Ministry of Petroleum & NR questions Public Service Commissioners Tuesday

Hassan Mehmood, Director of Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum & NR questions Public Service Commissioners Tuesday

Montana Public Service Commissioners Bill Gallagher and Kirk Bushman hosted a discussion Tuesday with high-ranking officials from Pakistan’s energy sector.

The eight Pakistanis are visiting the U.S. through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The group is examining U.S. energy policies to gather ideas for improving Pakistan’s infrastructure. The country of 180 million people is wracked by power outages impacting entire cities and more on a regular basis. It also commonly suffers from shortages of commodities like natural gas.

The Pakistanis compared how the two countries organize utilities with the PSC. During the hour-long discussion,Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum Director Hassan Mehmood asked chairman Gallagher why the state doesn’t require Public Service Commissioners to have special education in a field related to utilities.

Gallagher said that is a challenge of the Montana system—but he says the PSC has that relevant experience on staff and, in the end, the elected commissioners are there to take the votes on subjects like rate changes.

“There’s a steep learning curve,” Gallagher said, “but we’re elected to be the ears and the eyes of the common people.”

The group is also learning about U.S. efforts to address the impacts of climate change and the Pakistanis are paying close attention to the American natural gas boom—in the Bakken and other shale formations.

Pakistan has a natural gas shortage right now, and Petroleum Ministry Director Hassan Mehmood said whether America decides to export its natural gas or not—it could bring prices down for his country.

“We are of the firm view that at least U.S. will not be importing gas, and that gas will become surplus and the suppliers will have to dispose of that gas for the other buyers and Pakistan can be one of the buyers,” Mehmood said.

 

 

Chronic Wasting Disease Part II

Photo Credit: Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Photo Credit: Wyoming Game and Fish Department

As we reported yesterday, Chronic Wasting Disease continues its push towards western Wyoming’s winter elk feedgrounds and Yellowstone National Park.
In part one of Edward O’Brien’s feature interview, Dr. Bruce  Smith explained the science behind CWD.
In short, it’s a terrible, infectious disease that slowly saps the life from Whitetail and Mule deer, Elk and even Moose. There is no known vaccine or treatment, animals do not develop immunities to it and it’s 100-percent fatal.
Montana had a close call with C-W-D when it was discovered in a Granite County game farm in the late 90’s, but no cases have been discovered in wild herds.
Smith, a retired U.S Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says C-W-D is something the public and policy-makers simply must pay close attention to.
Tonight, Smith continues his discussion with O’Brien with an explanation of why C-W-D is so prevalent in states like Wyoming, while Montana – at least so far – remains unscathed.

Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming continues its march north and west

elk1_bwilliams

photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Chronic Wasting Disease is on the move towards western Wyoming’s winter elk feedgrounds and Yellowstone National Park.
A retired U.S Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says this is something the public and policy-makers need to pay close attention to.
Dr. Bruce Smith is a former senior biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming and author of “Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd.”
In the first of our two-part interview, Smith, a resident of Sheridan, Montana,  explains to Edward O’Brien the basic science behind C-W-D.
In short, it’s an insidious, highly transmissible disease that sticks around in its environment:

Bridge easement lawsuit could impact MT’s stream access law

photo courtesy footloosiety/Flickr

photo courtesy footloosiety/Flickr

A lawsuit concerning a bridge on a county road could lead to major impacts on Montana’s stream access law in a case pitting private property advocates against prominent public access groups.

The state Supreme Court is considering the lawsuit over easements now. Atlanta-based media mogul James Kennedy owns a sizable piece of property on the Ruby River. Several county bridges cross the river on his land and a district court judge found it legal for Kennedy to fence off access to the river on one of those bridges—because of the type of ‘prescriptive easement’ on the bridge.

Public lands access advocates appealed that ruling to the Montana Supreme Court. Now, before the high court, Landowner James Kennedy is arguing a U.S. Supreme Court Decision on a case between Montana and PPL Montana from last year means the state’s stream access law should be thrown out or limited.

President of the United Property Owners of Montana Marc Robbins, said the U.S. court decided the state only owns the banks and beds of rivers if the river was commercially navigable at the time of statehood.

The Ruby River and other small streams like it to not meet that criteria.

“We feel that the state erred in its taking of the stream beds years ago,” Robbins said, “and this PPL ruling definitely turned the tides of the basis for what stream access was founded on.”

Montana Trout Unlimited Executive Director Bruce Farling believes these issues were hashed out by the State Supreme Court before the Stream Access law was established in the 80s.

He said the court decided the state constitution says the public owns the state’s water and they should be able to use it.

“They told the legislature at that time, they said ‘look, the public should have access on these streams to be able to recreate on them, irrespective of whom owns the bed and bank,’” Farling said.

The state supreme court has not made any decision on the case.

President Obama’s former campaign manager says fight over gun control not over

Jim Messina, Sally Mauk

Jim Messina, Sally Mauk

The former campaign manager for President Barack Obama, Jim Messina, was in Missoula over the weekend to deliver the commencement address to his alma mater, the University of Montana. Messina currently has his own consulting firm, and also is national chairman of “Organizing for Action”, a nonprofit group working to help the president achieve his legislative agenda. In this feature interview, Messina talks with News Director Sally Mauk about OFA’s priorities: climate change, gun control and immigration reform.

Montana receives “F” for its disclosure laws

Map of grades on disclosure laws given by the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Map of grades on disclosure laws given by the National Institute on Money in State Politics

A report released this week by the National Institute on Money in State Politics gives Montana a failing grade on its disclosure laws related to campaign spending in elections.

Twenty-five other states received “F”s in the report, while 15 states received an “A”.

“What we found interesting was that the state’s were either great or awful,” said the Institute’s Managing Director Denise Roth Barber. “There were very few in between.”

Barber describes NIMSP as a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that takes as one of its charges strongly advocating full disclosure in political spending. The report graded states on “disclosure requirements for super PACs, nonprofits and other outside spending groups.”

Barber said there is quite a bit of interest right now on the national level to require more disclosure on spending in federal races.

“But at the state level,” she said, “we don’t actually know in too many states, including Montana, how much money is even spent, let alone where it came from.”

She said the major campaign finance overhaul pitched by Gov. Steve Bullock and carried by Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, called the TRACE Act, could have single-handedly brought Montana’s grade up from an “F” to an “A”. On top of increasing disclosure, that bill would have increased the fines for violating Montana’s current election laws. The bill passed the Senate 29-21 after a heated debate. However, the bill never made it to the House floor and died when the Legislature adjourned.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, complimented Sen. Peterson and supporters for their intentions with the TRACE Act, but said he and other opponents believe the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear: money equals speech when it comes to political spending.

“The protection of anonymity in political speech has been a part of this country since before the founding of the Republic,” Moore said.